Maine's chief medical examiner retires after controversial tenure

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Apr. 4—Dr. Mark Flomenbaum, one of the highest-paid state employees whose tenure as Maine's chief medical examiner was marked by controversy, quietly retired in December.

A new chief medical examiner has been selected and is expected to start in June, according to Lindsey Chasteen, administrator of the medical examiner's office, who said she was not authorized to name the appointment. A spokesperson for Gov. Janet Mills also could not identify the appointee and said it will be announced soon.

"The Governor thanks Dr. Flomenbaum for his years of service to the state and wishes him well in retirement," Ben Goodman, a spokesperson for Mills, said in a statement. "The Governor, with the support of the Attorney General, has hired a new, highly-qualified Chief Medical Examiner who will step into the position in late June."

Flomenbaum had notified the governor's office that he did not want to be reappointed to the post when his term expired in June 2021. But he agreed to stay on until a new medical examiner was chosen, a task that has apparently taken nearly three years.

His annual salary topped $317,000 in 2023.

During his time as chief medical examiner, Flomenbaum was reprimanded by Mills for an inappropriate gift he gave a departing employee, criticized for his side business as a consultant in out-of-state deaths, and had his testimony ruled "not credible" by a Connecticut judge. But during his tenure, the office was also named one of the best in the country by the National Association of Medical Examiners, which issued a full accreditation in 2018.

Flomenbaum did not respond Wednesday to a request for an interview about his retirement.

Since his retirement, Chasteen said, the medical examiner's office has been relying primarily on the deputy chief medical examiner, Liam Funte. An outside medical examiner has also been covering several days each month to give the deputy a break, she said.

Flomenbaum was appointed to the position in August 2014 by then-Gov. Paul LePage. He had been deputy chief medical examiner for about five months when his predecessor retired.

Before coming to Maine, he built a national reputation as a top medical examiner for his work helping to lead the identification of bodies from the World Trade Center after 9/11. He was later appointed to run the medical examiner's office in Massachusetts, but was fired two years later after his office lost a body. Critics said the office had developed a backlog of bodies waiting to be examined.

Flomenbaum filed a wrongful termination suit against the state, but lost after a court ruled there was sufficient evidence of problems in the office to justify the firing.

In 2016, a Connecticut prosecutor notified Mills, who was then attorney general, that a judge had determined that Flomenbaum's testimony as a consultant in a child manslaughter case in that state was ruled "not credible."

Flomenbaum made news again in 2019 when he changed his findings regarding the angle of a fatal shot in the death of Alicia Gaston of Windham, leading to a mistrial. In a subsequent trial, her husband Noah Gaston was found guilty of his wife's murder.

Shortly afterward, independent state Rep. Jeff Evangelos of Friendship filed a complaint with the attorney general's office about Flomenbaum's work as a private consultant. Evangelos said at the time that he wanted to know whether the side gig was getting in the way of his public duties in Maine.

An investigation by Attorney General Aaron Frey cleared Flomenbaum after determining there was no evidence that Flomenbaum was doing consulting work on state time. However, Frey criticized a 2017 job posting from the medical examiner's office that said many Maine bodies are "lost at sea or wind up in either New Hampshire or Canada." Frey said in 2019 that Flomenbaum's attempt at humor failed to convey the "high standards and professionalism and dignity" expected of state officials.

In 2020, Mills issued a formal reprimand after Flomenbaum's office gave an "inappropriate gift" to a departing employee, and he questioned an employee's approved medical leave.

The governor ordered him to take a "refresher training" on the state's policy against harassment and warned that any further substantiated inappropriate conduct would result in discipline. The allegations of "inappropriate and unprofessional behavior, including behavior that may have been sexual in nature, in the workplace" were lodged against Flomenbaum in January 2020, Mills' reprimand letter said.

Details of the allegations and gift were never released.